Enaiatollah Akbari grew up in Afghanistan until at the age of 10 years old he and his mother journeyed to Pakistan. One night his mother whispered three things for him to always remember. The next morning she was gone. He had been left in Pakistan alone and his mother had returned to Afghanistan to care for his younger siblings.
Over the next five years Enaiat must struggle to survive as he gradually embarks on a journey from Pakistan to Iran to Turkey to Greece and finally to Italy. He finds other Afghan boys along the way, some of whom make the same journey as him and some who do not survive.
In many ways this is a hard book to read. Enaiat’s story is heartbreaking, perhaps even more so because it’s told in a very matter-of-fact tone. Enaiat belongs in a world where lack of food or a place to sleep or the cruelty of the police are well-known and accepted facts. I was struck by the existence of a shadow world of refugees that most of the world knows nothing about. It’s also very much a book of hope. Enaiat overcomes great hardships and he story is as inspiring as it is sad. He also is helped along the way by many people in every country.
Enaiat’s story is told by Fabio Geda. It’s billed as a “novel based on the true story”. In an introduction Geda explains that in the book he attempts to tell the story as much in Enaiat’s own voice and words as he can. He also explains that because Enaiat does not remember every detail this is a recreation and therefore a work of fiction that allowed Enaiat to “take possession of his own story”. The end result is a book that feels more like an oral history than a novel. Regardless of how you categorize it, it’s a powerful book and one I’d recommend.